From fighting to coaching, to doing both: James Taylor’s journey through boxing

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From fighting to coaching, to doing both: James Taylor’s journey through boxing

After a two year hiatus, Taylor has fought twice in 2019 and won both fights

After a two year hiatus, Taylor has fought twice in 2019 and won both fights

Nate Marrero

After a two year hiatus, Taylor has fought twice in 2019 and won both fights

Nate Marrero

Nate Marrero

After a two year hiatus, Taylor has fought twice in 2019 and won both fights

Nate Marrero, Sports Editor

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It’s 2004, and James Taylor goes to the basketball courts just to play a game of hoops with a group of friends. They decide to have some fun slap boxing and Taylor goes up against his friend Enrique, who is an actual boxer. 

Having never boxed, slap boxing with someone who boxes isn’t the smartest idea—yet Taylor held his own. As a result, Enrique introduced Taylor to his dad and they started training together. That’s where it all began for Taylor and his career as a boxer. 

As Taylor got more into boxing, he became enamored with one fighter in particular—Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whittaker. Whittaker won a gold medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and he won a championship in four different weight classes as a professional—finishing his career with 40 wins and just four losses. Whittaker, unfortunately, passed away on July 14, 2019, after being hit by a car in Virginia Beach.

“Pernell Whittaker, because of the movement, how fluid he was, I’m a southpaw too,” Taylor said on why Whittaker was his favorite fighter.

Despite the late start to his boxing career, Taylor found success early on. Just five years after stepping into a boxing gym for the first time, he won a state championship in his weight class. 

Coming off of the greatest achievement in his amateur career, Taylor was ready to enter the professional ranks. But as fate had it, those plans to turn pro just weren’t meant to be at the time. 

Appendicitis, the inflammation of the appendix, had forced Taylor to put his boxing career on the back burner for some time.

“When I had appendicitis it basically took me out of boxing so I couldn’t compete, couldn’t train,” Taylor said. “My abdominal was really messed up so it was hard for me to stand straight up.” 

With his boxing career put on hold, Taylor had to find something else to occupy the time. A close friend of his from high school, Julien Williams was an amateur mixed martial artist and needed someone to help him improve his boxing. Taylor decided to coach Williams and the improvement in Williams’ boxing was noticeable to both of them. As a result of their work together, William informed teammates of his at American Top Team of Taylor’s work as a boxing coach. Taylor saw his popularity as a coach grow. 

“I got a love for training,” Taylor said on the effect coaching fighters had on him. 

Taylor’s success with Williams and fighters at American Top Team eventually led to him being offered an opportunity to run his own boxing program at the now-defunct Swat Mixed Martial Art school in Winter Garden. Although Taylor was unsure of instructing groups, he eventually accepted, and the popularity of the class skyrocketed. 

With his own boxing class, Taylor got to live out one of his dreams. 

“One thing’s for sure is that I wanted to help kids out no matter what,” Taylor said.  “I always had that dream and that passion because of what I came from. I always had that [mentality of], ‘If I get a chance to help people out, I’m going to help them out.” 

In 2012, another huge opportunity presented itself for Taylor to enhance his coaching career. Taylor was looking for a spot to open up his own boxing gym but that search came to an end when The Fighting Arts Emporium welcomed him with open arms after seeing him work with one of his fighters Joshua Cordero. 

“They liked what they saw and I told them I was fixing to open up a gym around this area and they were like, ‘No you’re not, you’re going to open up here,” Taylor said. “I sat down with Denise and we worked some things out and she said, ‘Gym is yours,’ and I said as long as it can go by my rules, I don’t mind running it. So I started Teknique Boxing inside Fighting Arts Emporium.” 

Taylor was still coaching at Swat Mixed Martial Arts briefly after getting his own gym but his time there soon to an end because of personal reasons with the owner. Williams, who was also coaching at Swat Mixed Martial Arts with Taylor, wasn’t pleased with that decision. As a result, the long-time friends didn’t talk for around a year. 

Eventually, Williams reached his breaking point with the school as well, which eventually led to him reconnecting with Taylor. 

With Williams and Taylor working together again plus Edwin Carmichael, who also worked at Swat Mixed Martial Arts, they eventually decided to open up Fusion X-Cel in 2016 in the West Oaks Mall. With the three of them specializing in different backgrounds, Taylor working primarily on boxing and striking, Williams working primarily on jiu-jitsu and Carmichael working mainly on fitness, they covered almost every base needed for a gym. 

“It just worked,” Taylor said. “We sat down at the table and we figured out what we were fusing together. Fusion excellence basically, so Fusion X-Cel is all three of us.” 

Now Fusion X-Cel is littered with plenty of talented fighters. Alan “Nuguette” Patrick, Phil “Fresh Prince” Rowe, Rodolfo “Black Belt Hunter” Viera, “Platinum” Mike Perry and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza all fight in the UFC and train at Fusion X-Cel. Souza, who joined the gym in late 2017, is the one fighter that Taylor works with the most. 

“I love coaching Jacare because he’s not a striker,” Taylor said. “That’s what kinda intrigued me more — like, this guy’s not a knockout artist. He can knock you out, he’s got power, but he’s not known for being a knockout artist — he’s known for submitting you.”

While Taylor was a coach at Teknique Boxing and Fusion X-Cel, he eventually got an itch to step in the boxing ring again. March 17, 2017, he made his professional debut and won by first-round knockout. In the aftermath of his first professional win, Taylor had plans again on two separate occasions, but both flights were canceled. Due to his obligations as a coach in two different gyms, Taylor had to put boxing to the side once again. 

Then plans for Taylor came together again as he stepped up in the ring again two years later. He returned to the ring in emphatic fashion on July 27, defeating Fernando Marrero by technical knockout. Soon thereafter, another fight opportunity came up for Taylor in August much to his pleasure. 

“Keep me busy,” Taylor said on how he wants his fights to be scheduled. “If you keep me busy I’ll keep fighting. If you try to make me wait four months, then nah – I ain’t going to want to fight. I’m older, I gotta move quick.”

Taylor then got another win by knockout in his fight in Indiana on Aug. 24 against Celiel Castillo.

Now, after having those two fights in two months, he’ll get a small break before fights at the Sun Dome in Tampa on November 2. 

Although he got a late start to his professional career, it’s something that Taylor has done before when he began his career, he found success by winning a state championship. Taylor hopes to replicate that success. 

At first, Taylor wanted to get right into the pro ranks but those plans fell through due to appendicitis—which eventually pushed him towards becoming a coach. Now he’s doing both and has plans to make a name for himself as a coach and as a fighter. 

“I want to win at least one world championship, but once you get there, you want all of them,” Taylor said. “I feel like I’m 20, I have no damage. My coach calls me a brand new Cadillac that’s been sitting in the garage for a long time. Everything still works, everything is still functional, no injuries at all. I’m still faster than 98 percent of these guys out here. So, if they can’t sustain my power, nor my speed, they’re going to be in a world of trouble getting whooped by an old man.”